Earl "Buddy" Hance, a Southern Maryland farmer whose name is frequently mentioned as a candidate to be the next state agriculture secretary, will travel to Utah this week where he says he hopes to influence national farm policy.
Hance is president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, the state's largest agriculture organization, and he will lead the 40-member delegation attending the American Farm Bureau Federation's 88th annual convention in Salt Lake City.
The four-day convention, which starts Jan. 7, is expected to attract 4,000 farmers from around the country.
The hot topic will be the 2007 Farm Bill, which will drive federal farm policy for the next six years, Hance said.
The current farm bill, which took effect in 2002, is set to expire in September.
"There is going to be some heated debate this year," Hance said in an interview. "We will be drafting policy to guide the congressional discussion of the new farm bill."
Hance said there will be discussion of the federal government's grain support programs, which supplement farmers' income when grain prices drop below a certain level.
At least to some extent, this will involve trying to predict the future.
"Right now, corn prices are very good," Hance said. "The production of ethanol has pushed corn prices to their highest level in 20 years. But this could change in three years; prices could fall again."
Hance said the budget situation in Washington has national environmental organizations pushing to take funds from farm programs to help pay for conservation initiatives.
Hance became president of the Maryland Farm Bureau in 2005. Since then, the organization has added about 2,500 members, bringing its total to 27,520 farm families.
Membership in the American Farm Bureau reached a record 6.2 million this year.
When Maryland Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley announced plans to retire this month, he said Hance was one of the people being considered by Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley as his successor.
Hance said he has an application in for the job, and it is being considered, but no decisions have been made.
Hance can trace his farm family roots to the 1700s when, as he put it, "They got off the boat at St. Mary's City and began growing tobacco."
He ended the family's long tobacco farming tradition about five years ago when he accepted a buyout program started by Gov. Parris N. Glendening that paid farmers to transition from a crop linked to cancer and other health problems.
In the same greenhouses on a farm near Port Republic where he grew tobacco plants, Hance now grows flowers - impatiens, petunias and snapdragons - for a wholesaler supplying Home Depot stores.
This year's annual warning from the state agriculture department concerning regulations in the sale of firewood comes with a new twist.
The department's division of weights and measures is still policing operations to make certain that consumers who buy a cord of firewood actually get that much.
But what is new this year is the quarantine of ash wood materials and all hardwood firewood in Prince George's County.
The quarantine was issued in August after an infestation of a small but destructive beetle that made its way to this country from Asia in 2002 and was discovered in ash trees near Clinton and Brandywine.
The culprit is the emerald ash borer. It burrows through the bark of ash trees and halts the flow of water from the roots to the branches. Leaves begin to yellow, and the branches in the top third of the tree die first. The tree dies within two or three years.
The shiny emerald-green beetle is about a half-inch long and one-sixteenth of an inch wide. It is responsible for the destruction of more than 20 million ash trees in Michigan since its discovery there three years ago.
The beetle usually leaves a D-shaped mark in the bark and damages only ash trees.
Ash trees are among the most common landscaping trees in the nation and are common in Western Maryland forests.
Concerning the sale of other woods used as firewood, it is important for residents buying wood to understand how it is measured, Riley said.
Wood is only sold by the cord or fraction of a cord. A cord is 128 cubic feet, typically a stack measuring 4 feet wide, by 8 feet long, by 4 feet high.